2666: The Part About the Crimes, pages 513-564

Perhaps I've reached the appalling point where I'm inured to the nauseating violence of this book, but for some reason I felt ever-so-slightly less wearied by this section. Which, while nowhere close to actual enjoyment, is a bit of an uptick from where I've been. I was able to appreciate some of Bolaño's prose again (and he does have a remarkable facility for beautiful language), even as the body count rose and the misogyny, homophobia, indifference and ennui continued unabated. I suspect this is the best I can hope for until we finally leave the wretched Part About the Crimes behind us.

On that note, if it's particularly good analysis that you're looking for, I would redirect you here. David is a wonderful, insightful reader, and he beggars my attempts to add much to what he's already said. (I promise to do better if we all decide to read The Pale King collectively.)

That said, there are a couple of observations I would make. First of all, it was interesting to read the section about the various Maria Expositos. It brought Gabriel Garcia Marquez immediately to mind. (Or rather, Gabriel Garcia Marquez if he'd decided to make One Hundred Years of Solitude all about sexual violence.) It was my favorite bit of this section, and heightened the magical realist elements of the novel. Despite of the generations of rape upon rape, the women were self-sufficient and strong, though it was ironic that some of the only women thus depicted in the Part About the Crimes would also blend so thoroughly into each other.

And on that note, let's segue once again to misogyny, and those charming, charming Santa Teresa police officers. You know the ones -- the ones that are supposed to be protecting the women of the city and taking seriously the responsibility to investigate the murders of the vulnerable and helpless who had no-one to protect them? Yeah. Them.

You'd like it would be next to impossible to get a rise out of me after pages upon pages of despicable, gruesome violence against women. But pages 552-53 were genuinely revolting. It seems the very people charged with protecting the city's women are deeply misogynist themselves. (I suppose it should be no surprise that there are no women cops.) The "jokes" turned my stomach, and the men telling them made my skin crawl.

Here in the United States, we like to make a big joke about political correctness and lament identity politics. Even a leftist type like me rolls his eyes when he's forced, periodically, to participate in some kind of sensitivity exercise or complete some test about sexual harassment in the workplace. So kudos to you, Roberto Bolaño, for reminding me of why those tedious exercises are important, and for displaying so vividly what happens when nobody gives a good goddamn about how women are treated. I'd rather attend sensitivity training every week than live in a society like the one depicted in those pages. (Which is, I think, what Bolaño was genuinely striving for, so bravo for real.)

Anyhow, that's all I've got. The end of the Part About the Crimes is in sight, and I look forward to the final Part, which is where I've been told things fall into place a bit more. Here's hoping.


  1. So Bolaño has spent 50 odd pages, invented some misogynistic police officers so he could tell a lurid tale of graphic violence against womyn, and what he was striving for was to illustrate how very bad a society would be if it tolerated this sort of thing.

    Well then. That's, err, ahhh, some, erm, important prose. Insights one can't find just anywhere. Although I'm still unclear on why he must write violence porn if he really is against misogyny and abuse by The Man, and wants to convince us of the inherent rightness of his position. Sounds like one of those Quit Smoking programs where they force you to live in an ashtray.

  2. GJ, I admire your valiant attempts to offer commentary on a book you are not reading.

  3. Dan: First, thanks very much for pointing in my direction. It's appreciated.

    Next, I would definitely be on board for a group read of The Pale King, so count me in if you guys decide to read it in the future.

    I too enjoyed the section about Maria Exposito. Its interesting, because Bolano was sort of famously scornful of Magical Realism--not so much of Marquez, but of writers he considered to be his epigones, like Isabel Allende (I haven't read her and so have no idea if I'd like her writing or not, but apparently she and Bolano had a rather frosty relationship). But you are right, there are definitely elements of magical realism in this and other sections (Florita Almada comes to mind). Also, there's a huge revelation about the identity of Lalo Cura in this section, but you have to read pretty much all of The Savage Detectives to really understand it.

    I had a similar reaction to the litany of sexist jokes (though sexist seems too mild a term--pathological is more like it). For some reason that hit me harder than the descriptions of the murders. Maybe, like you, I've just become inured to them, but I've also found that those passages are laced with moments of genuine tenderness. One that I can't get out of my head is the passage on page 502, where Juan de Dios Martinez is speculating about how the killers disposed of the bodies of two little girls who, he notes,"hardly weighed anything, and who, if carried between two men, surely were each no heavier than a small suitcase." That line just kills me.

    Anyway, only one more week to go...

  4. Oddly enough, I'm just responding to your reaction to the book. I can't know what the book actually says without reading it. From what I've gathered, I probably wouldn't find the book, ahhh, interesting.

    I don't object to fictional misogynistic violence as such, in fact, I just finished a book with a rather brutish section in it, but the point was to give context to a character, allowing him to develop as the circumstances in his life changed. We clearly appreciate different aesthetic values in dance and literature, but any one view is neither Right nor Wrong. Let a thousand flowers bloom.